Taking care of yourself

This section provides information to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Health Practitioners manage stress and avoid burnout. There are publications and resources to help with maintaining health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Tips for workers

From an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective, health and wellbeing is more than just about the physical wellbeing of the individual. It includes the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole community [33425].

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforce can experience stress on the job. Stress occurs when people feel they cannot cope with the demands placed upon them. Work stress refers to what happens when work demands get too much over a short-term period.

Burnout is different to stress (but it may include signs and symptoms of stress). Burnout is a longer-term process where workers do not function well at work and develop negative and cynical attitudes towards clients and work in general. Stressful working conditions and job demands can result in worker burnout over time.

When people are burnt out they:

  • feel emotionally exhausted (feeling overextended and emotionally and physically drained)
  • have a negative, detached or cynical view of their work
  • feel like they are not accomplishing much at work
  • feel they are stupid or that nothing they do has any effect [33425].

Stress and burnout can lead to:

  • reduced job satisfaction
  • lower job performance (quality and quantity of work)
  • an increase in being absent from work and staff turnover
  • reduced commitment to work and the organisation [26602].

The best strategy to prevent (or reduce) stress and burnout is an approach that focuses on both:

  • organisational responses
  • individual responses.

Individual stress reduction strategies should be used in conjunction with organisational strategies to reduce stress, not in isolation [28152].

Individual workers can do a lot to manage their stress and reduce risk of burnout.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have overcome extraordinarily difficult experiences and have gained great strength and resilience from their cultural backgrounds.

Key elements in maintaining worker wellbeing include:

  • having close family bonds
  • telling and hearing cultural stories
  • spirituality.

Doing work that allows workers to keep and strengthen their links with their communities is an important stress management tool for many workers. Being able to give to and receive support from their communities is extremely important to worker wellbeing. Things to consider are:

  • Laughter is a helpful way to remain positive and resilient. Humour can also be used within the workplace as a way to manage distressing events and contain minor irritations.
  • Having realistic expectations about what can and cannot be done, and being aware that it is not possible to help everyone, is essential for worker wellbeing. Developing realistic expectations can reduce the stress on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners. Recognising stressful situations that are likely to occur as part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers’ and Practitioners’ roles can help reduce stress when these situations do arise.
  • Prioritising work tasks is important to reduce stress, particularly where workloads are overwhelming. It is important to learn techniques and strategies to give work tasks that are most important the time they need to be attended to. Knowing how to prioritise tasks is a key way to keep on top of the demands and expectations from communities, peers and managers.
  • Work/life balance is the relationship between work and other commitments in workers’ lives and how they impact on one another. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners struggle to balance work and the responsibilities of caring for children, community and kin. There is no ideal work/life balance. Everyone is different and the ‘right’ balance may change as commitments change. Flexible work arrangements help to manage work and life demands, for instance by allowing employees to work in patterns and places that fit their personal commitments.
  • Enjoy the success of working with clients, particularly one-on-one, and helping them to achieve their goals is a major source of worker satisfaction. Seeing clients who previously have had health problems living, working, and participating in community activities is rewarding and can balance out the stress and demands experienced by workers. Focussing on successes, no matter how small, is very important [26602].


Key resources


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The funds provided by the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care enable good coverage of many areas, particularly those within the direct responsibility of the health system. However there are other health topics which require additional funding.

We seek your assistance to fund this topic to support us in helping to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


Country Metro #2 by Julie Weekes

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